Queued Up.

I’m back from another place and have queued a lot in the process of going and coming.  Departure tax payment, airport check in, bag drop, passport examination, security check, flight boarding to name just those involving departure and with two changes (one involving a US border entry) and a final wait for my checked bags.  I lost the will to count them all.

They have taken all the fun out of queueing.  In the old days one would arrive at the queues, (and there were always as many queues as there were servers), and with a practiced eye one could quickly evaluate the options, length of queue, number of families in each line, number of bags per person in line, gender and age of those in line, estimated nationality of those in line and finally, and most importantly, the gender and estimated national origin of the servers.  The fastest service could be almost guaranteed by choosing that queue of bored, sober-suited, middle-aged, white gents with small carry-on bags waiting, with paperwork in hand, for the highly efficient oriental lady server with the indestructible work ethic.  You could be through and out in seconds, step forward, slap down your docs., two questions, “Did you pack…?” “Did anyone give…?”  Machine spits out boarding card and you’re gone.  She would be pushing them through about two per minute, easy.

 Now the airlines have gone all democratic (to my mind that’s when two wolves and a sheep sit down to decide what’s for dinner) and they now have one long, long line winding, serpent like between tapes and stanchions and disgorging itself before many servers. It’s called Minimum Average Waiting Time and all the perpetrators of this abuse of free choice claim it is “The Most Efficient System”.  Well it ain’t.  The first impression one has is the enormous length, bewildering diversity and static nature of the queue.   We have to join the end of THAT?  Yes, I know it is moving ten times faster than each of the ten old-type queues used to move, but no one looks at the mess long enough to deduce that.  It is just one massive road-block, a jaw dropping barrier to reasonable progress, sapping what little enthusiasm one may have had for the journey ahead.  The mechanics of the process condemn the user to adopt a sheep like conformity to a system totally beyond one’s control.  I know the AVERAGE time for service is reduced, but what has that got to do with me?  In the old system with my careful and astute visual analysis I could often roundly beat the average and even if I did not (perhaps missing the fact that one of the sober-suited white gents wanted to change his round-the-world itinerary at the last-minute) at least I could give it a try, and I felt the chances of success well worth the gamble.  Now I am condemned to BE the average, having to queue behind everybody who got to the back this enormous line before me.

I do not believe this alleged efficiency either, just watch the head of the queue, some of the victims there have been waiting so long they have become anesthetized by immobility, they have forgotten how to effect their escape, if they ever knew.  A server becomes free, and nobody moves, mum is chastising the kids or arguing with dad, or two middle aged white guys are reliving their latest golf game.  The server waves a hand, no one can move until they do, finally some one behind them points an admonishing finger towards the waiting server, they pick up their bags and with downcast eyes, shuffle off. By that time two more servers have become free, no one moves, an open server waves, makes a cooeee sound that is lost in the hubbub of the terminal and the process repeats, confusion and delay are everywhere.  The dawdlers, gossipers and imbeciles delaying the monumental queue are the exact same people who were so easy to avoid in the old system, they generally hang about in clusters being unprepared for motion, or the inevitable request for paperwork.  I would never ever join their line out of choice but now it is Hobson’s.

Then there’s that X-ray thing you have to shove your carry-on into, and your belt and your shoes and your loose change and for all I know your false teeth and your hernia truss too.  That British prat (the shoe bomber fella) has caused more chaos and delay than if both his sneakers had exploded at check in.  Pathetic old people hopping about in their socks who normally would need skilled medical help to reach their shoelaces.  And where do all the people in front go when they get through the body scan gizzie?  They were all in the way when I was trying to find a tray to put my camera in and when I came through there were a hundred trays jammed on the belt and mine was stuck way back in the X-ray machine being irradiated for the twentieth time.  No people, just trays of smelly shoes and decrepit laptops.  All hauled off for questioning about the metal in their artificial hips maybe?

Just for completeness there are all these rules about carry-on bags, this dimension, that dimension etc.  I think there should be only one rule here; before you enter the plane you have to lift your carry-on bag above your head and hold it there for 30 seconds, because that’s what you have to do to get it in the very appropriately named OVERHEAD bin, and if you cannot do that you should not be dragging it about with you.

Good to be home.




Author: Low Wattage

Expat Welshman, educated (somewhat) in UK, left before it became fashionable to do so. Now a U.S. Citizen, and recent widower, playing with retirement and house remodeling, living in Delaware and rural Maryland (weekends).

14 thoughts on “Queued Up.”

  1. Now you do realise that for the price of all this aggravation and a deal less wear and tear on the soul you could have built a decent greenhouse with heating and spent a week in it in perfect harmony of ‘wa’ and had a wonderful holiday away from the horror of it all?

    I do agree with you that the removal of choice is aggravating in the extreme.

    One of my most endearing memories of the boy happened in Chicago a million years ago when he was an infant. I managed to get pulled in by an extremely offensive Puerto Rican customs wallah who had some kind of issues with God knows what. Anyway he eviscerated my luggage and took his time about it. I had plonked the boy down on the table to open up some other stuff and he acquired that red faced, gruffing look of a baby about to ‘GO’. He did, with all the force, quantity and splendidly malodorous quality that only disturbed eating schedule and a transatlantic flight can produce in a baby. The Puerto Rican suddenly acquire a burst of speed to remove me from his vicinity. Needless to say I was extremely slow to pack my bags, collate my paperwork and rearrange the trolley and push chair etc etc. I’m quite sure we would all have liked to dump crap on the customs at one time or another but the boy, God bless him, was the only one I have ever known that has actually managed to fulfil the curse of “I shit on you!” I remember the incident with great fondness and entertainment. Every time I stand in a customs queue I get a grin on my face, I expect others think I am some kind of maniacal masochist!

    I must say, the horrors of travel are now so great that I really can’t be bothered anymore for so called pleasure, sheer necessity is the only reason to get on a plane in my book. I’m going back this summer, but only because my sister is having a big bash for her 50th wedding and I reckon it will be the last time we all see each other as I am the youngest! Glad you survived the horror of the Caribbean!

  2. CO: te he he. Thank you for the laugh. On Monday I will go on a short holiday to Québec and have to deal with TSA again at Minneapolis. Grr. I will keep your story in mind as they tear my dignity to shreds.

  3. LW, an engaging post. However, please do not blame the British for the travails you faced at the hands of Homeland Security. This is an entirely stupid expletive American exercise in expletive stupidity. If the terrs (to use the Rhodesian term) really wanted to get you, they would. (By you, I do not mean you personally, but the wider American/Western public). You only have to look at alternative forms of transport or potential targets to recognise how easy it would be to cause havoc. I remember back in 2002 going through Logan Airport (Boston), the scene of Reid’s adventure, and facing the same tribulations that you have just undergone. i.e. long lines and ritual stripping. Later that week, I took a coach from Boston to Portland in Maine. There were about 60 people on board. None of us or our luggage were inspected for explosives. It just would not be that difficult to cause considerable damage to people and property and there is not a great deal the authorities could do about it. I mean, just think what you could do if you had a mind to. A petrol tanker in rush hour. The fact of the matter is, there are just not that many people who really want to go ahead and actually do it.

    US paranoia regarding terrorist attacks is a sick joke and government regulations are designed to enslave the public. The terrorists have won, and I dare say that given the pathetic reaction of the US government and the willing public, they deserve to have done so. Imagine if Britain had reacted that way during the IRA campaigns.

    Moving on to other aspects of queuing, I entirely agree with you concerning the profiling of those in the queue and those officiating.

    Having spent many hours in queues in this part of the world, I have become convinced that Africans have an entirely different perception of time compared to non-Africans. They seem perfectly content to stand in line for as long as it takes without showing any sign of impatience. It is as if time stands still for them. Yesterday, today and tomorrow are all one.

    When I first went to the US, I was told by my American client, as we waited for a table at a restaurant, that only those Americans who worked in the software industry knew what a queue was. For everybody else, the word was line,

  4. Very amusing account, LW. So you are obviously not of the opinion that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.
    Frankly, unless they invent some sort of teleportation system I’m inclined to stay at home.

    All this security nonsense reeks of paranoia, but there is always the slight statistical possibility that you could just be on the wrong flight at the er right time. Chances are, the drive to and from the airport are more dangerous.

    Did you enjoy your holiday?

  5. I always use Vancouver rather than Seattle to minimise risks, no one ever seems to have it in for the Canadians! They are just as bad on the queues and once confiscated my homemade raspberry jam!
    I wish I had made it explosive!

  6. Your post brought back unhappy memories, LW. Now on our regular trips to France, we check in on-line and print off boarding passes. That’s one queue less. If the queue at security looks bad, we shell out a few quid for priority security. We only take hand luggage, though with many unpleasant comments about the religion of peace as I carefully put correctly sized bottles in the transparent bag. Priority boarding more or less eliminates the queue there. Your experiences also reminded me why I have no desire to visit the USA again.

  7. As someone who regularly goes back and forth from the USA to the UK I can categorically say that Heathrow is far far worse than any port of entry in the USA! It has been thus for at least the last ten years, ever since they got rid of the queues for the British only in their own land.
    What I find really disgusting is the fact that they use muslims to check white UK passengers in and out of their own country when they are the cause of the whole kerfuffle in the first place, Birmingham airport is absolutely frightful, hardly a white face anywhere, turbans and hijabs de rigeur!
    I wonder how long since you came to the USA?

  8. CO:US airports are so bad that after next year I have no intention of returning to the US. Heathrow is a dive, but London City is a pleasant airport and it’s easy to connect in Amsterdam or Munich.

  9. Ah yes, the trials and tribulations of air travel! Just recently en route home from England with my hand-baggage only and little plastic bag, I received a ‘gotchya’ look from the Stansted security fella, who explained I had bags of some suspicious substances in my bag. Would I open up and show him? Yes. Ah, quoth he (a former denizen of the Sub-continent), spices! He breathed their aroma and smiled, waving me away to put on my belt and shoes.

  10. Janus, your experience reminds me of the occasion when a gentleman in a turban was trying out the new hand-held scanner, which he carefully passed over my beautiful new handbag, then took the piece of material off to check in a machine. Traces of explosive, he said. Panic! Lots more security guys without turbans checking the bag over and over again. Husband confirmed that one of the chemicals shown on the print-out was indeed a component of explosive substances. All I could say was that the handbag had just been given me as a present – very suspicious – by daughter as a souvenir of her trip to South America. We all ended up agreeing that only God knows what they use to treat leather in Argentina and were allowed to board the plane. That was the last flight that handbag ever took.

  11. Thanks for the comments, I truly enjoyed the return to Tortola, the island is suffering from cruise ships as are so many, I dug out a photo taken during a visit in 1980 of an almost deserted beach in contrast to the sardine like conditions this time, I’ll try to sort out a post.
    I think the queues are a world-wide phenomenon mostly affording little security but lots of irritation. I only used one US airport on the trip, Philadelphia. By far the longest queue was Beef Island (Tortola) and careful scrutiny revealed that the slowness was due almost entirely to the speed of the computer system (abysmal) they must have borrowed it from BA.
    The rule here is that one clears US Customs and Immigration at the first port of entry, in my returning case San Juan P.R. (will try to avoid that in the future) and that also involved a carrier change. No one seems to be quite sure where or what Puerto Rico is, the flight to and from Philly was from the international terminal but the the formalities there were all domestic. All the border bits were done in P.R. and Tortola.
    The fastest lines were at the Passport checks (except Tortola) the slowest the “security “lines.
    I’m out of the habit of regular international travel since my retirement, down to the odd trip to the remainder of family in the UK and the occasional vacation, I had hopes that things may have settled down since the disorganized days immediately following 2001, not so as far as I could determine. My next border crossing will be by boat, but more about that later.

    Sheona: We don’t have the bag rubbing thing here (explosives) there are apparently hundreds of substances that give false positives to that test, but just for completeness we do have “fruit sniffing dogs” at international baggage claims, employed by the Dept. of Ag. to prevent the import of apples and bananas as well as other similar dangerous products.

  12. I love the sniffer dogs! At Danish ports or entry they are little beagles with police jackets. They enjoy their work and greet all the travellers irrespective of addiction.

  13. Janus: Mostly Beagles here too, a joy to watch them working, no fuss or barking, when they sniff something suspicious they just sit by the bag in question and wait, looking pleased with themselves.

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